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Batman: The Animated Series? More Like The Dark Knight Rider! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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December 20th, 2009


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11:59 pm - Batman: The Animated Series? More Like The Dark Knight Rider!
Like those who grew up on the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman television show of yore, I grew up on Batman: The Animated Series. So when I discovered the DVDs at Newbury Comics for CRAZY LOW PRICES, I eagerly scooped them up so I could mainline all 109 episodes, many of which I had not seen.

By now, pretty much everyone has read or seen Batman in some incarnation, so why would you want to watch a cartoon from 1992? Well, it's not only widely considered to be one of the best cartoons of all time (usually coming in second to The Simpsons), but it was extremely influential, even more than I realized. For instance, Harley Quinn? Created for the series and then added to the comics. There are several original characters that became part of the actual comics, including Renee Montoya. The tragic backstory for Mr. Freeze used in Batman and Robin? Taken from the Emmy-winning "Heart of Ice," which completely redefined the character. This series is essential viewing for any Batman fan, and for many, it is the definitive vision.

But what if you're not a Batman fan? Well, do you want to be? Because this is a very good way to get your Batman education, especially if you enjoy villains, since the show is pretty villain-centric. Classic villains like the Joker, Two-Face, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, the Penguin, and Catwoman make frequent appearances, as do the aforementioned Harley and Freeze. Some of my other favorites include Clayface—who, like Mr. Freeze, got a tragic backstory that informed the actual comic incarnation—the Ventriloqust/Scarface, and the Mad Hatter. There are dozens of villains to enjoy, however, several of whom recur. And, as the treatment of Freeze and Clayface demonstrates, the writers are experts at portraying these villains sympathetically and making them interesting characters. Several of them have reform episodes where they try valiantly to go straight and fail—or at least they pretend! And key to the audience's connection to these characters is the voice actors, who do excellent work. Mark Hamill—Luke frickin' Skywalker—turns out to be a perfect fucking Joker, embodying him with just the right amount of playful mania and psychotic glee and giving him several variations of his signature laugh. He's far from the only recognizable name this series snagged; listen for John Glover, Ron Perlman, Harry Hamlin, William Sanderson, and, yes, Adam West, among others. The non-recognizable names are perfect as well. Kevin Conroy does a much better Batman voice than Christian Bale, I'll tell you what.

(And on that note, B:TAS is more in line with the Nolan Batverse in that it treats Bruce Wayne as a person. Like in the Nolan movies, Bruce is clearly the mask—Bruce frequently talks in Batman-voice when out of costume—but he also has a life and a company to run. Even though any time we see Bruce Wayne, he's pretty much itching to get into his costume and bust some heads.)

For a half-hour kids' cartoon, the show is very well written. The episodes are fairly light on exposition, and they move very quickly. Although it's appropriate for kids, it's not dumbed down. The only major reminder that you're watching a kids' show is that no one ever dies, they just get really big boo-boos. (Unless you're a superhero's parents. Then you can die.) It struck me that it was a kids' show where the main characters are all adults. Even Robin/Dick Grayson is in college. There aren't really any characters or conflicts that a child could relate to, but I still loved it when I was a kid. Because it's just good storytelling.

The series is also notable for its visual style, deemed "Dark Deco" since it took the old Fleischer Superman cartoons and Gothamed them up. It's set in the present, but in a sort of retro-present that creator Bruce Timm describes "as if the 1939 World's Fair had lasted forty years." This allows the series to be both timeless and dated: villains shoot Tommy guns and drive 1940s automobiles but Batman uses giant computers with very primitive displays. It's a unique style that gives the writers the ability to tell stories from different eras of the comic.

After 85 episodes, however, the series became The New Batman Adventures and the visual style was completely revamped to look more cartoony and shiny and it lost a lot of what made it great. The writing wasn't as strong either, although there were still some great episodes. These final 24 episodes focused a little more on the supporting characters like Batgirl—who was recast with a better voice—Robin—now Tim Drake, a twerp of a kid—and Nightwing—the former Robin, Dick Grayson. The original series is much more Batman-focused; he normally works alone. And yet there are some great episodes where Batman hardly appears!

There's probably no better endorsement for the show than the recently released/leaked Writer's Bible, which shows just how much thought the creators put into, well, everything. This is the type of quality animated series that is held up as an example of what you can do with the medium.

In conclusion, Batman uses his grappling hook a lot.
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Comments:


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From:amberlynne
Date:December 21st, 2009 08:30 am (UTC)
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I loooooooooooooove B:TAS soooo much. I have every set in series (though I wish I had picked up this when it was briefly available) and I adore just about every episode. Watching the credit sequence alone makes me giddy.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC)
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It is a pretty fabulous credit sequence. When I watched it for the first time after so many years, it was like being a kid again. I remembered every second of it.
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From:sophia_helix
Date:December 21st, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
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I totally want to re-watch that show now -- we loved it when we were kids, and I didn't realize until much later in life that it was my default idea of Batman (and ergo, that's why no movie has ever felt really right). Also glad to know it's stood up, since I haven't seen it in 15 years.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 03:43 pm (UTC)
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It has absolutely stood up. There are some clunkers here and there, but overall it's great and such fun to rewatch. So great to hear all the old voices. BATMAN!
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From:tripoli
Date:December 21st, 2009 08:44 am (UTC)
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Oh man, the love I have for this show is very close to shameful. (Ledger finally gave Hamill some competition for Joker, but Kevin Conroy is Batman and that's just the way it is.) I don't know how many small children were completely, totally, sleep-with-the-lights-on traumatized by the reveal of Two Face, but I was traumatized enough for at least two or three.

I haven't sat down with the writers' bible yet, but it looks awesome.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC)
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Oh man, the love I have for this show is very close to shameful.
There is no shame! I don't think there are people who don't love this show. If there are haters, I don't want to know.

(Ledger finally gave Hamill some competition for Joker, but Kevin Conroy is Batman and that's just the way it is.)
I love hearing all their voices in my head! They sound so right. Except Ra's al-Ghul. His voice annoys me. (Commissioner Gordon took a little getting used to since Gary Oldman was so great, but now he sounds right in my head as well. Bullock too, though it was confusing that he wasn't actually a dirty cop.)

I don't know how many small children were completely, totally, sleep-with-the-lights-on traumatized by the reveal of Two Face, but I was traumatized enough for at least two or three.
For a show that didn't kill anyone, it still went to some dark places.

I haven't sat down with the writers' bible yet, but it looks awesome.
Yeah, I haven't read it all yet either, but what I did read was very interesting.
[User Picture]
From:chrryblssmninja
Date:December 21st, 2009 09:59 am (UTC)
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YESSSSS THIS SERIES

DOMO-KUN IN MY ICON IS TELLING EVERYONE ABOUT IT
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC)
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GOOD JOB DOMO-KUN. THE DVDS ARE OUT THERE.
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From:dharmavati
Date:December 21st, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I loved that show! In fact, I've never followed the comics, so B:TAS is how I know my Batman canon. When watching the Nolan movies, I had map the live-action characters to the animated characters I knew well from this show. :D
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
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Hee, yeah! The cartoons are how I got all my canon before the movies, and then I started reading comics. I want to rewatch the X-Men animated series now.

(If you want to read the comics, I have suggestions! There are several classic Batman stories you can read.)
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From:scifantasy
Date:December 21st, 2009 03:03 pm (UTC)
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It's also worth it to point out that this started the DC Animated Universe, which later included Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and perhaps more importantly, Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, which is almost certainly the greatest superhero TV show ever made.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
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I didn't get around to pointing that out, but you're right. I want to watch the Justice League shows as well at some point.
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From:sisterjune
Date:December 21st, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
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Oh man this brings back great memories. I LOVED this show as a kid. I was crazy about it, and my parents thought it was kind of weird for a little girl to love batman and comics so much (but to their credit they never discouraged me) But oh did I. I remember back in HS I wanted to buy the dvds badly but I couldnt find them. Now they have the whole series out so I'm just waiting till I got the right amount saved up and then I'm buying the whole lot.

You are so right about the good storytelling, as a child I didnt think about it much I just watched and enjoyed it but now that I'm older and look back on it I realize how amazing and rare it is to find an animated show that is child friendly and yet so well written and complex. There were many mature themes, I remember I teared up in a few episodes cause the villain's pasts were so sad or screwed up. I mean everyone was allowed to be human. Even as a kid I loved that there was more to these people than their evil deeds. The villains were also SO scary. Scarecrow, mad hatter, and that clay dude? Freaked me out. Joker it goes without saying was the scariest of all. Esp since unlike those guys, we never got any real backstory on him. I think my fave antagonist of all though was Catwoman. I totally shipped her with batman XD.
I feel bad for today's generation sometimes, their shows just arent nearly as good (excluding avatar of course-speaking of which, apparently mark hamill did the fire lord's voice too. pretty funny how the guy who played luke is now known for voicing villains in cartoons. heh)

Edited at 2009-12-21 04:53 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC)
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You are so right about the good storytelling, as a child I didnt think about it much I just watched and enjoyed it but now that I'm older and look back on it I realize how amazing and rare it is to find an animated show that is child friendly and yet so well written and complex.
Definitely! Especially in comparison to cartoons these days.

I feel bad for today's generation sometimes, their shows just arent nearly as good
Exactly!

(excluding avatar of course-speaking of which, apparently mark hamill did the fire lord's voice too. pretty funny how the guy who played luke is now known for voicing villains in cartoons. heh)
Hee, yep!

I remember I teared up in a few episodes cause the villain's pasts were so sad or screwed up. I mean everyone was allowed to be human.
Even the most ridiculous villains still had some believable human emotions. It's the sort of stuff you don't really realize is good because you just take it for granted: this is how it should be, you know?
[User Picture]
From:hecubot
Date:December 21st, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
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Have you seen Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker yet? Because your Batman:TAS viewing is incomplete without it.

Actually Batman Beyond is pretty great in itself.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
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I never had much interest in Batman Beyond, but maybe I'll check it out.
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From:incidentist
Date:December 21st, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)
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Stayed up waaay too late reading that writer's guide. Thanks for posting that. This show was so damn great.

You really need to play Arkham Asylum somehow. They were basically working from the same manual, with the same voices too!

I'm gonna buy this the next time it's cheap.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
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You really need to play Arkham Asylum somehow. They were basically working from the same manual, with the same voices too!
I know! I played a few minutes of it and it was awesome. I really want to play the whole thing.
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From:equustel
Date:December 21st, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
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So much love! Yup, this series is still my default canon. I think the one thing that could have made The Dark Knight better would've been the inclusion of Renee Montoya and Harvey Bullock, to replace Random Traitorous Cop Lady, etc. Plus, they could've played off Renee's connection to Two-Face, which I've always loved.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:December 21st, 2009 11:37 pm (UTC)
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Which connection is that? You mean the stuff in NML?
[User Picture]
From:ethanvahlere
Date:December 22nd, 2009 01:07 am (UTC)
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I loved this series as well. It is startling to see how much animation on TV has changed since then, particularly compared to Justice League, and yes, the New Adventures aren't quite as good (for starters, the animation is crummier), but it still holds up very well; it's neck in neck with Dark Knight in being my favorite screen interpretation of Batman.

And I loved Mark Hamill as the Joker.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:December 22nd, 2009 02:57 am (UTC)
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Oooh, Gargoyles. There's another one I want to rewatch.

And, yeah, there were so many episodes where I was like I REMEMBER THIS. It was neat.
From:toastandtea
Date:December 22nd, 2009 04:52 am (UTC)
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I've actually never seen B:TAS aside from maybe a few episodes a long time ago, but i've been wanting to watch the whole thing for quite some time because everyone always speaks of it with such reverence. Just a couple weeks ago i was reading some Batman comics and really feeling the need to get into the show. Your geeking is very timely!

Plus i asked for Arkham Asylum for Christmas and with the voice cast continuity there i'm totally gonna feel like i'm missing out.

I sure do like Batman.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:December 22nd, 2009 05:01 am (UTC)
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HELLO YOU!!!!!!!!11111111

You should definitely watch the whole thing because of my geeking timeliness.
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:December 22nd, 2009 12:48 pm (UTC)
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So when I discovered the DVDs at Newbury Comics for CRAZY LOW PRICES, I [called and woke up the_narration so he could do price comparisons for me and] eagerly scooped them up so I could mainline all 109 episodes, many of which I had not seen.
Fixed it for you. :-D

I think that B:TAS, along with the Burton movies, were what established my mental image of Batman as a child and made me like him. Batman was my favorite superhero for a long time, but the one I see in comics these days is such an asshole that I can't stand him. I think it's the one in B:TAS, the one who's a dark, mysterious hero without being a jerk to everyone, that I liked.

Batman Beyond was also fairly cool (I downloaded and watched a bit of it a few years back). I watched Justice League/JLU fairly irregularly, but it wasn't bad.

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